Arizona's defense blistered in shocking loss to Arizona State
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Somewhere in the near future when the NCAA tournament selection committee gathers to determine the No. 1 seeds, it will review Arizona's loss to Arizona State.
While at it, the committee will likely look at Arizona's loss to UNLV. And, yes of course, the Wildcat's loss at Oregon State.
They each are stunning as they are perplexing, especially given the fact Arizona lost them all in the same fashion: lack of defense.
"We did not get the job done on the defensive end," Arizona coach Sean Miller said after Saturday's 81-78 loss to the Sun Devils. The No. 6 Wildcats (20-3, 8-2 Pac-12) had "no rim protector and no physicality," Miller said, adding things were too easy for ASU.
This from a team that hangs its hat on such aspects and continues to say defense is what defines it. Saturday afternoon, Arizona's defense didn't show up. Junior Brandon Ashley called it a lack of focus.
The result was for the third time in four years, ASU -- considered to be the lesser team in all three games here in Tempe -- found a way to win. Just last month Arizona defeated ASU 73-49.
It was a 27-point swing in the rematch.
ASU (12-11, 4-6) can thank Bo Barnes' shooting, Jonathan Gilling's shooting, Savon Goodman near the basket and Tra Holder leading the charge. Arizona had no answers.
"We knew what to expect but at the same time knowing what to expect and performing to the level of your ability (is another)," said Ashley.
"We didn't take anything away from them and I thought they were excellent," Miller said. "Were we hitting on all cylinders? Absolutely not."
All were things Miller mentioned about this week when he spoke about how the Sun Devils concerned him.
"They did it with what they've been doing and they did it exceptionally well," Miller said. "And they picked on a number of our guys. The way Arizona State plays offense one side to the next really tests your discipline. We had very poor discipline."
Miller, just a minute into his post-mortem talk with the media, said he felt early on the outcome was bleak. He could sense his team wasn't ready. Two hours later, it showed in the final score.
"I called a timeout with about a minute and a half in and I know our team pretty well," Miller said, "and we didn't have it at that point and we never got it. Sometimes as the game plays out you don't really feel that you didn't deserve to win the game. And that's really how I felt. We broke down way too many times. ASU was the better team today."
ASU played harder, moved the ball better and earned the win. One would have wondered which team was the team with the Ratings Percentage Index of four (Arizona's ranking) and the other 119 (ASU's going in).
Arizona squandered great efforts from senior guard T.J. McConnell, who had a season-high 25, and sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who added 14 points and eight rebounds. Stanley Johnson added 16 points and nine rebounds before he fouled out.
"We were kind of stagnant on offense and I saw a mismatch on offense so I attacked off ball screens," McConnell said. "It's tough (losing) and I don't care how I play offensively. But I 'm worried about defense and that we win. We didn't do that so you can throw that offensive game out the door."
Now, Arizona will have to regroup like it has after the other losses, most recently the Oregon State debacle. It did by winning six consecutive games.
"It's a loss that is hard but all we have to do is get back on the saddle, so to speak," Miller said. "We're headed on the road for two games and we're going to get people's best shot because of our ranking. Sometimes when you go through this it's a reminder of how easily it is to lose."
And get another wakeup call?
"You hope at this point in the season we didn't need another wake up any more," Ashley said. "With that said, we're at that point. But after a loss you can only go up."
The NCAA selection committee will be watching.